The Importance of the Doctrine of the Vicarious Humanity of Christ for Evangelical Calvinists Made Clear by a Roman Catholic

The following is going to be a long quote from Paul Molnar (a Roman Catholic) on Torrance’s theology. I want to quote this for those of you, especially, who are more prone towards a “classically” conceived Calvinism, or even a Roman Catholic perspective. In this piece I hope that you will get a feel for Torrance’s insistence upon a thoroughly Christ-centered, Spirit-centered approach that he eleisonbelieves we must take if we are going to ground all of life and reality in life — viz. that we must “ground” all of life in Christ’s life (God’s life), or else we will fall into an array of theological problems. Let’s begin this quote:

What can be learned from Torrance’s emphasis on Christ’s high priestly mediation and his rejection of dualistic epistemology and ontology in understanding the Eucharist in a Trinitarian way? First, God gives himself to us in Jesus Christ; the Gift is identical with the Giver. If our understanding of God’s relation with the world is ‘damaged’ because of a dualistic perspective, then we will assume that God has not actually given himself within created time and space ‘but only something of himself through a created mediation’. A dualistic perspective actually divides the Gift from the Giver. The Catholic tendency focuses on the Gift in its concern for real presence, thought of ‘as inhering in the Eucharist as such’. The Protestant tendency focuses on ourselves as receivers over against the Giver. Torrance insists, against both of these tendencies, that because the Gift is identical with the Giver, God is immediately present in his own being and life through Jesus Christ; this self-giving ‘takes place in the Holy Spirit who is not just an emanation from God but the immediate presence and activity of God in his own divine Being, the Spirit of the Father and the Son . . . this is a real presence of Christ to us’.

Second, with respect to the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Offerer is identical with the Offering: what ‘the Incarnate Son offers to the Father on our behalf is his own human life which he took from us and assumed into unity with his divine life, his self-offering through the eternal Spirit of the Father’. Because the historical offering of his body on the cross is inherently one with himself as the Offerer, it is a once-and-for-all event which remains eternally valid. Understood dualistically, the Offerer and Offering are not finally one; ‘neither is his offering once and for all nor is it completely and sufficiently vicarious’. He becomes only a created intermediary and the offering is seen as a merely human offering so that no real mediation between God and creatures has taken place. Torrance insists that if Christ’s human priesthood is seen within a Nestorian or Apollinarian framework ‘then it becomes only a representative and no longer a vicarious priesthood, for it is no longer unique but only an exemplary form of our own’; thus it is no longer uniquely substitutionary.

This directs us to rely on ourselves ‘to effect our own “Pelagian” mediation with God by being our own priests and by offering to him our own sacrifices’. Even if this is done ‘for Christ’s sake’ and motivated by him, since it is not done ‘with him and in him we have no access through him into the immediate presence of God’. If, however, ‘Jesus Christ is himself both Priest and Victim, Offerer and Offering’ who has effected atoning reconciliation and so for ever ‘unites God and man in his one Person and as such coinheres with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the eternal Trinity, then, we participate in his self-consecration and self-offering to the Father and thus appear with him and in him and through him before the Majesty of God in worship, praise and adoration with no other sacrifice than the sacrifice of Christ Jesus our Mediator and High Priest’.

When the Church worships, praises and adores the Father through Jesus Christ, it is the self-offering and self-consecration of Jesus Christ ‘in our nature ascending to the Father from the Church in which he dwells through the Spirit;’ ‘it is Christ himself who worships, praises and adores the Father in and through his members’ shaping their prayers and conforming them in their communion in his body and blood.

T. F. Torrance’s achievement here is immense. By focusing on ‘God as Man’ rather than upon God in Man’, Torrance embraces a high Christology which concentrates on the humanity of the incarnate Son of God and a view of Eucharistic worship and life ‘in which the primacy is given to the priestly mediation of Jesus Christ’:

It is in fact the eternal life of the incarnate Son in us that ascends to the Father in our worship and prayer through, with and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. While they are our worship and prayer, in as much as we freely and fully participate in the Sonship of Christ and in the whole course of his filial obedience to the Father, they are derived from and rooted in a source beyond themselves, in the economic condenscension and ascension of the Son of God. The movement of worship and prayer . . . is essentially correlative to the movement of the divine love and grace, from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit.

This leads to a more unified soteirology which views incarnation and atonement as a single continuous movement of God’s redeeming love which accentuates Jesus Christ’s ‘God-manward and his man-Godward activity’. Focusing on Jesus’ vicarious humanity emphasizes that Christ has put himself in our place, experiencing our aliented human condition and healing it. Eucharistic anamnesis is no mere recollection of what Christ has done for us once for all, but a memorial which ‘according to his command’ and ‘through the Spirit is filled with the presence of Christ in the indivisible unity of all his vicarious work and his glorified Person’. . . . [Paul Metzger, ed., Paul Molnar, Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology, 184-86]

The vicarious point is a very important one for TFT, and his “Evangelical Calvinism.” I hope that you’ve found this quote from Molnar enlightening!

[I originally wrote this post in 2009, but thought it would be helpful for some who maybe haven’t yet grasped how important this doctrine as a hermeneutic is for Evangelical Calvinism]

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4 thoughts on “The Importance of the Doctrine of the Vicarious Humanity of Christ for Evangelical Calvinists Made Clear by a Roman Catholic

  1. Bobby,

    First of all, thank you so much for this blog. You have allowed me to branch into a understanding of true christianity through what you have written. I love your blogroll, because it allows me to know that there are so many other christians who have christ-centered theology (Glen scrivener, Kenneth Tanner, ect…). It has truly been a blessing!

    Second, I just wanted to give my thoughts on evangelical calvinism vs. other theologies. I am starting to realize that the general populous of Christians don’t have a true understanding of the trinity or the incarnation, which is a travesty. In the Christian school I grew up in, we read through Wayne Grudems “Systematic theology”, which starts with a doctrine of God outside the trinity, and only devotes around 2 pages to the trinity. It seems most mainstream theologians here in the west either don’t understand “christ centered” theology, or they don’t want to (which is a scary thought). I feel that the style of theology that is pushed by most mainstream theologians seems almost identical with Mormonism or other works/law based theologies (When you leave out the importance of the trinity and the incarnation, we are left with A unitarian God, something that is completely OTHER than christianity! Yet this is what so many christians today believe.)

    I think the reason for this is because in the west, people don’t want to leave room for the supernatural or mystery in theology. We cant logically explain how God can be fully God and Fully man, or how God can be three persons who are all fully God, but that doesn’t stop us for confessing and believing that as truth. I am attending Grand Canyon University ( a christian university in Arizona) and my hope is to share the true Christ and the trinity with my mainstream christian peers. Sorry for rambling, I just wanted to share my thoughts on this matter, and explain how this style of theology has allowed me to truly see God as who he is (Three persons united in love).

    P.S. I have been listening to the “evangelist podcast” by glen scrivener, you should go on his show, it would be great! 🙂

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  2. David, amen!

    Yes, my hope is that people will come to a better and richer understanding of who God in Jesus Christ is. Because of the neglect on sound doctrinal teaching and Christian Dogmatic teaching culled from the History of the Church evangelicals are spiritually stunted and often times led astray. I hope to point people to Christ and the depth dimension of His life for us as the second person of the Triune life.

    And yes, people in the west and even the east have gone the logical-causal deterministic route in their thinking and so the Gospel and its reality gets locked down and made into a theo-logical unassailable system of thought. But as Christians that’s not what or better who we worship; we worship a personal and Personed God. So we need to press on and do what we can to edify our brothers and sisters and challenge them as we see the day approaching!

    I’ve known Glen for many years, ever before he started blogging :-). I met him through an early blog of mine, and we’ve been friends since! He’s a great brother!

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  3. Reading Athanasius really opened me up to the universal implications which the incarnation had for humanity. The incarnation shows that Christ indeed died for every one and not just for a subset of humanity (i.e. the elect).

    BTW, it’s largely thanks to your blog that I was able to open up to Karl Barth. I am actually studying him right now.

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